How the iconic Wisconsin cheesehead is made


1 in 30 Karisa Langlo / CNET

You have probably seen one of the Iconic Wisconsin Cheesehead Hats. Made famous by Green Bay Packers fans, the hats are now a Dairy State staple and they’re all made in the country.


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Foamation, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, does much more than the iconic wedge-shaped Cheesehead hat. You can purchase a number of cheese-inspired foam items, including soccer balls and cowboy hats.


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The Factory, in the Walker’s Point neighborhood of Milwaukee, includes a surprisingly chic retail store and event venue called The Factory on Barclay.


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The legacy of Wisconsin Cheesehead is due to Ralph Bruno, founder of Foamation and inventor of the original Cheesehead foam hat.


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All of Foamation’s products are made in its Milwaukee plant and its operations are more analog than you might think. Each hat is handmade.


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The first step is to dispense the poly liquid into a paper cup.


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Then a Foamation employee uses what he likens to a McFlurry machine to mix the poly.


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All foam hats are made in metal molds, some of which have been used for years.


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To make a hat, you start by heating the mold with a hair dryer and then spraying it with a “mold release agent”.


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Then the mixed liquid poly is poured from the paper cup into the prepared mold. It starts to expand right away.


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In addition to hats, the Cheesehead Factory also makes cheese-inspired foam coasters in the shape of the state of Wisconsin. These are made in the same way as hats.


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The factory also makes Cheesehead foam soccer balls, a nod to the company’s close ties to the Green Bay Packers and the soccer fandom.


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Once the poly is poured, the cover is placed back on the mold. On a tour of the Foamation factory, tour participants can make their own hats and get a hands-on experience that Ralph Bruno calls “display-making”.


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Molds and lids are held in place by trailer jacks for several minutes, measured by the jingling of a kitchen timer. Each product takes a different time for the poly to cure.


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As the poly expands, some will leak out of the mold and will need to be cut off at the end of the process.


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When the mold lids are removed, the final product is revealed for the first time.


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Here is a foam hat, hardened and ready to be removed from the mold.


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Employees should remove each item from its mold carefully, so as not to damage the newly cured foam. The release agent sprayed in advance on each mold greatly facilitates removal.


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This is what the top hat looks like when taken out of the mold.


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The next step is to squeeze the foam by hand to release any air bubbles that may have formed during the curing process.


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And voila, a foam top hat.


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The last step, before putting the hat up for sale, is to trim the excess foam around its edges.


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The extra leftovers form colorful trash cans around Foamation’s headquarters.


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Tour participants can choose which Foamation products they want to make on the tour. Bruno says the traditional Cheesehead hat is actually not the most popular choice, as they’re much easier to find in stores across the state.


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The tour also includes a brief history of Foamation and the Cheesehead Hat, with plenty of interesting details about Bruno’s original hat (and a special surprise hidden in what was once a bank vault in the building’s previous life).


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A guide leads the group through The Wedge of Allegiance.


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The factory also has a display of non-Cheesehead hats that the company has made in the past, some for other sports teams and fandoms, like the Nebraska cornhead hat.


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Exit through the gift shop, which is awash in that iconic orange-yellow foam.


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Foamation sells Cheesehead t-shirts, figurines, and a bunch of other foam-free items in their retail store. You can even get a COVID-19 mask that heralds your love of the dairy state.


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After purchasing a Cheesehead hat, a photo op awaits outside the factory. I could not resist.


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